The Hat Collection
Hat Works has a good collection of twentieth century British hats, including top hats, bowler hats, trilbies, homburgs, 1950/60’s ladies synthetic hats, and all kinds of hats dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. We also have spectacular examples of the very best in couture millinery on display.
About 250 of these hats can be seen in thematic displays in the museum, with an approximately equal but ever-growing number of hats in store, waiting to take their place on display.
To complement the museum’s existing collection, Hat Works are currently concentrating on collecting hats made before 1900, hats from other countries, and hats made by modern designers.
The Hatting Industry
Hat Works’ ground floor provides an introduction to fur felt hat-making, which began to concentrate in the Stockport area from the 17th century. A farmer, making hats to supplement his income, is shown preparing fur to be shaped into hats. The bubbling, steaming kettle into which the hats were dipped is a memorable part of every visit to the museum.
Hat Works introduces mechanisation of the hatting industry to its visitors with a hatter’s cottage. Visitors can walk through the back kitchen of a small terraced house to see how a worker in a hat factory might have lived in the late 19th century, when hatting became an urban occupation. The late 19th century was the heyday of the hat, and Stockport’s hatting industry became large and prosperous at this time.
Hat Block Making
One of the most atmospheric parts of the museum is the recreation of a hat block maker’s workshop and office. Wooden hat blocks around which to mould hats were essential to the hat maker.
William Plant and Co. of Great Ancoats Street in Manchester were the last hat block makers in the North of England. When they shut down in 1976, the contents of their workshop and office were painstakingly removed, and are now on display at Hat Works in an accurate recreation. A labyrinth of lathes with a web of leather driving belts still function, and the old-fashioned office, complete with desk diary and cigarette packet, is in as much orderly chaos as it used to be.
In the 19th century, when Plant’s business began, it used steam power to drive the lathes and block-copying machines. Visitors can see the kind of engine that was used: a magnificent Tangye steam engine is kept in good order, and is working under electric power.
Hat Works in Wellington Mill
Hat Works opened on Easter Monday 2000, three years after the closure of Christys’, the last local hat factory.
Hat Works is located in Wellington Mill, built in 1828 by leading Industrialist Thomas Marsland to help accommodate the burgeoning cotton industry. There is, however, a hatting connection, as the firm of Ward Brothers occupied part of the building from the 1890s to the 1930s.
Wellington Mill was one of the first fireproof mills, making it extremely expensive to build and only an option for the wealthiest of factory owners. The mill was built with cast iron columns and brick vaults, which are filled with sand. The ceiling cavities were also filled with sand.
There are 2 rows of 14 cast iron columns on each floor and cast iron roof trusses, which are very unusual. At 7 stories tall, Wellington Mill is one of the tallest mills in Stockport. The 200 foot chimney, which is a famous Stockport landmark, was added in 1860.